Reds baseball in the 2010s can hardly be compared to the French Revolution, and yet here I am to make the comparison anyway. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” Charles Dickens wrote to begin his Tale of Two Cities, and, were he not paid by the word, he probably should have stopped there. Nevertheless, he persisted. “…it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness;” sound familiar?
Major League Baseball now, much like the French Revolution then, exists at this uneasy dichotomy. The players are better than they ever have been; the information as precise and wise as it possibly can be. Yet, the game itself drags. Pitchers like Justin Verlander and Jacob DeGrom are guillotining hitters at rates unseen before, and hitters are in turn launching long balls, their own storming of the Bastille, rather than fighting petty skirmishes for a base hit. The skill and information is at its best, but the game and the strategy at its most foolish.
But that’s the macroeconomic scale. That’s the French Revolution, the American Revolution, the what is democracy? and where should we compromise? of the situation. For the Reds, the comparison is much simpler.
The start of the decade was the best of times, the end of the decade the worst of times.
Unlike the aughts which only saw pain, heartbreak, and mediocrity for the Redlegs, the 2010s brought playoffs and promise, superstars and showstoppers, wins and so many losses. To commemorate the decade, I’ve picked ten moments — five good, five bad — that I feel have characterized the Reds these past ten years. And in order to end on a high note, we must start on a low one.
5 – Low. Mat Latos ripping his former teammates
It’s impossible to write about the Reds’ decade without mentioning Mat Latos, so let’s start at the end: “Our dugout looked like a ghost town.” As the dog nipped at his heels on the way out, Latos decided to kick back. The ghost town comment was one of the more family-friendly things Latos said after the Reds traded him to the Marlins in 2014. He also called the team a “circus,” used some profanity, and blasted some young players for … hanging out? Latos has issues and I won’t get into them, but his tirade did characterize the early-rebuild Reds: lost.
The pitcher also claimed that the team’s trainers rushed him back from surgery, a claim that many of the players at the time vehemently disagreed with. Skip Schumaker, the king of grit himself, even said that the Latos trade was “addition by subtraction.” In the clubhouse that might have been true, but on the field losing Latos handicapped the Reds for most of the decade.
In two and a half seasons, the temperamental righty produced 8.1 bWAR, roughly the equivalent of what Luis Castillo has done the past two and a half seasons (9.1 bWAR). It wasn’t an ace-level performance, but Latos was a solid No. 2. The bigger handicap was what it took to get him. The players the Reds sent to San Diego — Yasmani Grandal, Yonder Alonso, Brad Boxberger, and Edinson Volquez — have produced 25.5 bWAR and made four All-Star teams.
If Latos had managed to stick around for longer and actually play to his potential, his trade could be on the “highs of the decade” side of this list. Instead his tantrum once he left defined a disappointing, franchise-altering trade.
5 – High. Joey Votto’s Antics, Brandon Phillips’ Glove
Remember that time Brandon Phillips flipped a ball through his legs? Remember that time Joey Votto taunted Phillies fans? Remember that time Brandon Phillips flipped the ball behind his back to start a double play? Remember that time Joey Votto dressed up as a mountie? Remember that other time Brandon Phillips flipped the ball between his legs AND started a double play? Remember that other time Joey Votto taunted Phillies fans?
All good times. Never really translated into playoff wins, but good times nonetheless.
4 – Low. Bryan Price’s F-bombs
In hindsight, having the most memorable part of your tenure at the helm be the sheer volume of profanity you were able to cram in is, uh, telling. During his second season as the Reds manager, Bryan Price went on a tirade including 77 f-bombs, which is exactly 76 more f-bombs than needed to make an emphatic point. At the very least, he could have mixed up his profanity of choice, but hey, the Reds were a one-trick team at the time so why shouldn’t the manager be too?
The decade started with Dusty Baker, an incredibly accomplished if somewhat outdated manager, and ends with David Bell, a green but analytically inclined skipper, yet it was Price in the middle years that will define this era of Reds baseball. Price was both green and outdated, a combination that neither inspires confidence nor produces results, and that about sums up the Reds. Young and promising but with no idea how to use that talent effectively. How does that f****** benefit the Reds indeed.
4 – High. Reds-Pirates, 2019
It might be a cop-out to choose all six series against one team across a season as a defining moment, but that’s what I’m doing. The 2019 Reds team had the most swagger of any in the decade and became one of the most enjoyable to watch as a result.
From Derek Dietrich’s opening day home run to his stand-and-watch shot a week later. From Yasiel Puig fighting the entire Pittsburgh team after some Dietrich chin music, to Amir Garrett taking a page from Puig’s book to do the same three months later. Not to mention Puig getting in on that second fight despite having already been traded to Cleveland. Dietrich and Puig’s stints in Cincinnati may have been short, but their absolute ownership of the Pittsburgh Pirates (between the two of them, they may have built a fully developed neighborhood in the Pirates’ heads) defined the Reds late decade renaissance.
3 – Low. Johnny Cueto dropping the ball in Pittsburgh
And it was a necessary renaissance because the Pirates built their own brickhouse in Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto’s head back in 2013. Down one in the win-or-go-home Wild Card game, Pirates fans started chanting “Cueto! Cueto!” The chants were so loud they reverberated through the television, like a haunting Gregorian soundtrack to the unraveling of the Reds window of opportunity.
Standing on the mound, the loneliest man in the world, Cueto looked aimlessly into the stands trying to focus on Russell Martin at the plate. And then he dropped the ball. The jeers erupted immediately. Cueto sauntered out as casually as could to retrieve the ball and with a skip, he snagged it in his glove. But the damage was done. The Reds ace was broken, the Reds would lose, and Cueto would be traded for what turned out to be a bag of beans two years later. To be fair, Cueto had the best season of his career in 2014, but it was too late to save the Reds. With that single drop of the ball, the Reds playoff plans vanished for the rest of the decade.
3 – High. Scooter Gennett’s four home run game
There’s an argument to be made that this should be number one. I won’t dispute that, but as a non-native Cincinnati Reds fan, the hometown hero bit doesn’t hold as much weight for me. That said, reading what Scooter said post-game is enough to give anyone chills.
“I’m truly blessed being from here, born here and watching all those guys play when I was little,” Scooter said. “To do something that’s never been done, I don’t know, I can’t put words to it. It’s an honor for sure.”
Think of all those Big Red Machine guys; think of legends like Ted Kluszewski or Barry Larkin; think of current Reds greats like Votto and Eugenio Suarez: None of them have ever done what Scooter did. Only 16 others in history have ever hit four home runs in a game. Even if his stay with the Reds was relatively short, Scooter will always be a Reds folk hero for this fateful night.
2 – Low. Scott Rolen’s Error
Again, you probably thought this would be number one on the low side. And yes, Rolen’s error did start the Reds collapse in the 2012 playoffs, blowing a 2-0 division series lead to the eventual champions. But at the time of the error, there was still hope.
When Rolen retired after the Reds were reverse-swept out of the playoffs, it signaled the end of their success. Rolen wasn’t as good as he used to be, but he was a clubhouse leader, that much Latos had right. He brought stability to the Reds, even if that stability failed him at the most important moment. His error is truly the turning point of the Reds decade, the first step off the mountain, with the jags of Cueto’s dropped ball and Price’s tirade still waiting on the way down.
2 – High. Homer Bailey’s No-Hitters
“Every dog gets his day twice, I guess,” Bailey said after his second no-no, a statement which, when I tried to factcheck, does not hold up. Only 35 pitchers in major league history have thrown multiple no-hitters, and we got to see one of our very own do it this decade. While Homer’s time in Cincinnati ended in ignominy, there’s no denying how dominant he was in flashes.
Also, I don’t remember this part of Homer’s second gem, but apparently it was made possible by Joey Votto’s quick thinking. In the seventh on a ground ball to Votto, Bailey broke late from the mound to cover the bag, so Votto threw to third to nab Gregor Blanco who had walked for a fielder’s choice. It was Homer Bailey’s night, but man has Votto been the rock of this team the whole time.
1 – Low. Brandon Phillips grounding out to finish Roy Halladay’s no-hitter
Hands down, this was the worst moment of the decade. For 15 years, the playoffs had eluded the Reds. The once-dominant team of the early 90s turned into a stumbling, bumbling cast of misfits in aughts. The team’s best divisional finish between 2000 and 2009 was second place that very first year. After that, the team finished fifth or worse in the division five times, never climbing above third again.
The start of the new decade was the start of promise in Cincinnati again. The team won the division, made it back to the playoffs. The core of Jay Bruce, Joey Votto, and Johnny Cueto was there. The team was finally good.
And then … in the Reds’ first playoff game in a decade and a half, Roy Halladay threw the second no-hitter in postseason history. As a baseball fan, it was truly incredible to watch a master of the mound at his very best. As a Reds fan, I will never be able to erase Brandon Phillips dribbler in front of the plate to end the game from my mind. To me, that will always be the defining low of the decade. Finally making it the promised land only to have the gates slammed shut.
1. “Clinchmas” — Jay Bruce walk-off home run, clinching the playoffs in 2010
But what an arrival it was. There was no doubt off the bat; immediately, Jay Bruce’s arm reached for the sky. “High fly. Left centerfield,” Thom Brennanman shouts. “The Reds are National League Central Division champions!”
At the plate, there’s Bronson Arroyo: hat backwards and goofy smile unchecked. There’s Coco Cordero: just bouncing and bouncing and bouncing. And there’s Jay Bruce: in the middle of it all, baby-faced and awestruck at what he’s just done.
It was a decade defined by lows, but, at least at first, the Reds soared so high.